The influence exerted by an intellectual is not necessarily proportional to the quality of his ideas, and there is a certain kind of erudition which, allied to a talent for polysyllabic obfuscation, is not incompatible with extreme shallowness. I make these remarks with Herbert Marcuse (1897–1979) in mind.
One might have expected that some slight experience of the First Word War and the subsequent Spartacist uprising in Berlin, followed by having to live through the rise of Nazism in Germany, would have given a person a fairly strong sense of proportion and of the fragility of things, but possibly no writer was more impervious to political common sense than was Marcuse. He could go in a short space from utter and total condemnation of the modern world, as strong as any Baptist preacher denouncing sin, to the most far-fetched utopianism—without ever having passed through anything that might be called realism. De Maistre said that in his life he had met Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc., but as for Man, he had never encountered him. With Marcuse, it was the other way around: he knew Man (at least, in his own opinion he knew him), but as for actual men, he knew them not—other, perhaps, than persons of his own type.